CHAPTER 5 -
GODS PUNITIVE JUSTICE.
"Wherefore I poured my fury upon them; and I scattered them among the heathen, and they were dispersed through the countries ; according to their way, and according to their doings, I judged them." EZEKIEL XXXVI. 18, 19.
THE dank mossy sward is deceitful: its fresh and glossy
carpet invites the traveller to leave the rough moor-land track; and, at the
first step, horse and rider are buried in the morass. The sea is deceitful ;
what rage, what stormy passions sleep in that placid bosom! and how often, as
Vice serves her used-up victims, does she cast the bark that she received into
her arms with sunny smiles a wreck upon the shore. The morning is oft deceitful
; with bright promise of a brilliant day, it lures us from home; the sky ere
noon begins to thicken the sun looks sickly; the sluggish, heavily-laden clouds
gather upon the hill-tops; the landscape closes in all around; the lark drops
songless into her nest ; the wind rises, moaning and chill ; and at length,
like adversities gathering round the grey head of age, tempests, storm, and
rain, thicken on the dying day. The desert is deceitful ; it mocks the
traveller with its mirage. How life kindles in his drooping eye, as he sees the
playful waves chase each other totheshore, and the plumes of the palm waving in
the watery mirror! Faint, weary, parched, perishing with thirst, he turns to
bathe and drink; and exhausting what little strength remains in pursuit of a
phantom, unhappy man! he has turned to die.
Deceitful above sward or sea, sky or enchanted desert, is the heart of man; nor do I know a more marked or melancholy proof of this than that afforded by our light treatment of such weighty matters as sin and judgment. There is no exaggeration in the prophets language, The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked. Put a case : - The flames have broken out in some house, and the fire spreads fast: at midnight the roll of the drum, fearful sound! wakens the sleeping streets; now follows the hurried yet measured tramp of armed men, and the rush of a crowd, who guided by a glare that illumines the sky, and turns night into ruddy day, pour on the scene of danger; and where the flames, bursting out from cellar to roof, shed their lurid light on glancing bayonets, strong arms below are working as for life, and daring men above, ever and anon lost among clouds of smoke, turn the stream upon the hissing fire. In this stirring scene, where is the tenant? How is he engaged? They thunder at the door; they call his name; they rear the ladder against the window; and hark how they shout to him to wake up, and haste, and flee, leaving house and furniture to the flames. They listen, but no answer. Alas! he has perished? Help has come too late? No; he lives; he has heard all that horrid din. He smells the smoke; he feels the floor grow hot, and hotter, beneath his feet; and amid the thick and suffocating air the man gasps for breath. He has heard the cries of kindly neighbours; the glass of the window, as a strong hand dashes it in, falls at his feet; he sees the very ladder resting on its sill. Well; has some ruffian hand bound him neck and heel, that he does not move? or gagged him, that lie sends back no answer? Not at all. The man is busy, very busy. He is ruminating on the question how the fire began; or with some pugnacious neighbour, as insane as himself, he is engaged in keen discussion about the time when and the place where it first broke out. Incredible! yet incredible as that appears, so deceitful is this heart, that something less excusable and more incredible daily meets us in the folly, in the insanity, of thousands. God has sounded the alarm. Roused from sleep, in some sense convinced of sin, in some measure awake to danger, the dream of safety broken in upon, warned that there is no time to spare, with the flames of wrath above, beneath, around, blocking up all the ordinary avenues of escape - the first, if not the only question, should be, Oh, Sirs, what shall I do? Where shall I turn? Quick; speak, say, What shall I do to be saved? Yet when the question, how to escape from the impending danger, is so pressing, hours, days, years, are wasted in inquiries and discussions such as this, How the race came to be exposed to it.
We leave theologians to settle the metaphysics of the Fall. Their business may be to know how we became sinners; our first, great immediate business, is to know how we are to cease to be so; how we are to be saved. Leave those who have reached the land to settle how and on what reef the vessel struck. The question with us, who still cling to the shrouds, or are battling with the surf, is, how to gain yonder blessed shore. In Gods name, and by his help, get the fire put out; and then, when the flames are quenched, it will be time enough to consider how they were kindled. Tie the bleeding artery; and when life is saved, determine, if you can, how it was wounded. When you have plucked the drowning man from the water, and laid him on the bank, and the colour flushes again on his cheek, and the pulse beats again at his wrist, and speech again returns to these blue and livid lips, then may you speculate on how he fell into the flood.
When, by Gods gracious help, we have awakened some careless one to care about his soul, it is one of the devils wiles to distract his attention by such subjects, and, amid the mazes of their inextricable labyrinths, to bewilder him, who should be pressing on to salvation at the top of his speed. I would have the man who is engaged in such an enterprise to give these questions in the meanwhile the go-by, and for once to apply well, words so often ill applied, I will hear thee again on this matter; When I have a convenient season I will call for thee. These are profound subjects; worthy of the investigations of angels and exalted saints. We dare not apply to their study the words of Nehemiah, I have a great work to do; therefore I cannot come down; yet in saving ourselves and others, 1 am sure that there is enough to do, without occupying our attention with unsatisfactory speculations on moral evil, and the entrance of sin into our world. In the first place, few have the time, and fewer still the talent for such studies. In the second place, although we had, we should find that, like going down into a coal-pit or the depths of ocean, the further we descended the darker it grew; and so we should fare no better than the fallen intelligences described by Milton, -
"Others apart sate on a hill retired,
In thoughts more elevate, and reasoned high
Of Providence, foreknowledge, will, and fate -
Fixed fate, free will, foreknowledge absolute -
And found no end, in wandering mazes lost.
Of good and evil much they argued there -
Vain wisdom all, and false philosophy."
In the third place, we may postpone these speculations until we enjoy
the leisure of eternity, and can examine questions so obscure in the clear
light of heaven. Meanwhile, let it content us to be assured, that the extent of
our knowledge shall correspond to the height of our elevation. A man, from the
bartisan of a tower, or the summit of some lofty mountain, commands a wider
landscape, and, tracing the course of rivers, the ranges of hills, the outlines
and indentations of the coast, obtains a far more extensive view of these
objects, and a clearer conception of their relative bearings, than he enjoyed
in the plain below. Even so, while some subjects, like the snowy summits of the
Himalayas or Andes, may remain for ever inaccessible, yet, once raised to
heaven, we shall understand many mysteries and solve many questions, of which
it is wisdom now to say, Such knowledge is too high for me; I cannot attain
unto it. The child who is seated on the shoulders of a man sees further than
the man himself; an infant standing on the top of a mountain sees very much
further than a giant at its base; and even so, the lisping babe, whom Jesus has
taken from a mothers bosom to his own, excels in science the most
profound of philosophers, and knows more of divinity than the greatest divines.
In heaven we shall see as we are seen, and know as we are known; there the
light of the moon shall be as the light of the sun, and the light of the sun
shall be sevenfold.
In considering at greater length the punitive justice of God, I shall not attempt to offer any full or satisfactory explanation of what really lies beyond our understanding. How a wise, holy, good, and gracious God permitted, in the existence of sin, what he certainly could have prevented, is a mystery now, and may remain one for ever. With others I might contribute some attempts to solve that difficulty; but I believe that, like all preceding efforts, they would throw on this vast and mysterious subject no more light than a candle sheds on a widely extended landscape, veiled in mist or wrapped in midnight darkness. Amid these awful and often painful mysteries, we can only cling to our holy faith, and cherish an unshaken confidence in this, that the Judge of all the earth doeth right. God is a king who can do no wrong.
Does man ask, Why am I born with a bias to sin? why has anothers hand been permitted to sow germs of evil in me? why should I, who was no party to the first covenant, be buried in its ruins? If in reply to the query - " What mean ye, that ye use this proverb concerning the land of Israel: saying, the fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the childrens teeth are set on edge?" the Bible says, "As I live, saith the Lord God, ye shall not have occasion any longer to use this proverb in Israel," why, then, do I suffer for Adams sin? why, most virulent of poisons! should this sin infect the blood of a hundred generations? why should I suffer for a crime committed six thousand years ago, and to which I no more consented than to the murder of Abel, or the massacre in Bethlehem? To these questions this is my reply: I shrink from sitting in judgment upon my judge. Clouds and darkness are round about Jehovah now; but I feel confident, that, when the veil of this present economy shall be rent, and expiring Time,, echoing the cry of the cross exclaims, It is finished, it shall be seen that righteousness and judgment are the pillars of Jehovahs throne, that there is no unrighteousness with God. These questions. open up an. abyss respecting which mans business is to adore, not to explore; and to them, meanwhile, I have no other answer than the great Apostles, Nay but, 0 man! who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say, to him who formed it, why hast thou made me thus?
But although the permission of sin is a mystery, the fact of its punishment is no mystery at all; and, while every answer to the question, How did God allow sin? leaves us unsatisfied, to my mind nothing is plainer than this, that, whatever was his reason for permitting it to exist, he could not permit it to exist unpunished. In proof of that, I observe -
I. The truth of God requires the punishment of sin.
"Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and get thee into the land of Moriah, and offer him there for a burnt-offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of." Startling announcement to Abraham! It is not possible to suppose that the alarmed, amazed, confounded patriarch received it at once, or believed it without a dreadful struggle. No; there never rung from mailed hand or battle-axe such a stunning blow. What father doubts that it made Abraham stagger, and brought this. man of stoutest faith to his knees? I think I hear him saying, Take Isaac, take my son, the son. of my love, the son of promise, the miraculous gift of heaven, offer Isaac for a burnt- offering? Surely I dream. What a dreadful fancy? Did my ears deceive me? No: there was a voice; I heard it. It sounded like the voice of God; but could it be so? Was it for this that angels announced his birth? Was it to be thus rudely shaken off, that the old stock was made to blossom, and this sweet fruit to grow on a withered tree? Although this trembling hand were nerved to plunge the knife into the bosom of my son, would it not be most honourable to God to conclude that some demon, with false and wicked mimicry, had borrowed his voice to lure me into a foul and monstrous crime; and, getting me to imbrue these hands in Isaacs blood, by this horrid sacrifice to quench the light of heaven and the hope of earth, in this sweet bud to crush an unknown salvation and unborn Saviour? Now, whatever room Abraham might have had for doubt, whatever struggle faith had with unbelief in that fathers heart, we have no room nor pretence to doubt that, however terrible its punishment, God has threatened to punish sin, and, true to his word, will pour out his fury on the sinners head. Christ is offered; and ye cannot escape, if ye neglect this great salvation.
Had the truth of sins punishment been written only in one solitary passage, within the whole compass of the Bible had there been but a single line to that effect, we might have succeeded in persuading ourselves that its sense was mistaken, and its terms misunderstood.. But is it so? Ah! no: there is text upon text, precept upon precept, line upon line, here a little and there a little. God has recorded his irrevocable resolution, not in one, but in a hundred passages; and has reiterated in a thousand ways the awful sentence, The soul that sinneth, it shall die.
Some have fancied that they honour God most when, sinking all other attributes in mercy - indiscriminating mercy - they represent him as embracing the whole world in his arms, and receiving to his bosom with equal affection the sinners that hate, and the saints that love him. They cannot claim originality for this idea. Its authorship belongs to the "father of lies." Satan said so before them. It is the identical doctrine that damned this world. The serpent said to the woman "Ye shall not surely die". Are your hopes of salvation resting on such a baseless fancy? If so, you cannot have considered in what aspect this theory presents that God for whose honour you profess such tender regard. We almost shrink from explaining it. You save the creature, but save him at a price more costly than was paid for sinners upon the cross of Calvary. There is something dearer than life to me, and to God there was something more precious than even the blood of his Son. I may part with my life but not with my honour; and God. could part with his Son, but not with his truth. But let sin go unpunished, either in person, or substitute, this no doubt saves the sinner; but at what price? You save the creatures life at the expense of the Creators honour. Your scheme exalts man; but far more than man is exalted, God is degraded. By it no man is lost; but there is a greater loss. The truth of God is lost; and in that loss his crown is spoiled of ita topmost jewel,' his kingdom totters, and the throne of the universe is shaken to its deepest foundations. It is as manifest as daylight that Gods truth and your scheme cannot stand together. "Liar" stands against either God or you; and, in the words of the Apostle, you make God a liar.
Nor is that all; my faith has lost the very rock on which it stood, and stood, as I flattered myself steadfast and unmovable. For however awful the threatenings in his word may be, if God is not true to them, what security have I that he will prove true to its gracious promises? The rod which bends in one direction will prove as supple in another; and since the truth of a Heaven stands upon the very same foundation as the truth of a Hell, the one resting upon the promises, the other upon the threatenings, and both alike upon the simple word of God, why, then the scheme which quenches the fears of the wicked, extinguishes the hopes of the just. If he that believeth not shall escape condemnation, farewell, a long and sad farewell, to the confidence I have cherished, that he who believeth shall be saved. I cannot consent that you should thus pull down my heaven, to build with its ruins, not a palace to justice, but an asylum for crime.. Away with such a scheme. It is fatal to the peace of Gods people. It is essentially blasphemous and dishonouring to their God. It makes the true God a liar. Making him do wrong, how can it be right? making him untrue, it must be itself false. We reject it with horror. It is a snare of the Evil One; and happy should I be to set loose its captives, and send them away on the wings of faith to heaven, soaring and singing, My soul is escaped as a bird out of the fowlers snare: the snare is broken, and I am escaped.
II. The love of God requires that sin should be punished.
You may start at this. Love require punishment? How strange! Had we said the justice, or holiness or purity of God, we should have used, no doubt, an expression less startling, and more sure to command a ready assent. These attributes present strong positions, within which it may be admitted that we could entrench this doctrine - impregnable to all assaults. On that very account it is that in this brief discussion we pass these by, and, confident in the strength of our cause, select of very purpose, though some may think with more courage than skill, what they deem the weakest argument and point of defence. But I find one of the strongest and most affecting proofs that the impenitent and unbelieving shall not go unpunished, even in that tenderest of all subjects, the love of God; and I think that I could close with the man who uses this love to prove that sin shall go unpunished; and having wrested that weapon from his hand, take off the head of his argument with his own sword. Of this love of God, may I not say what David said of Goliaths sword; There is none like that; give it me.
Lend me your candid attention, and it will not he difficult to convince you, that the love of God, which is a sevenfold shield to the believer, not merely consents to, but demands the condemnation, as it aggravates the guilt of the impenitent. Let me at once prove and illustrate the point by a piece of plain analogy : - This city, its neighbourhood, nay, the whole land, is shaken by the news of some most cruel, bloody, monstrous crime. Fear seizes the public mind; pale horror sits on all mens faces; doors are double barred; and justice lets loose the hounds of law on the track of the criminal. At length, to the relief and satisfaction of all honest citizens, he is caught. He is tried, condemned, laid in irons, and waits but the sentence to be signed. To save or slay, to hang or pardon, is now the question with him whose prerogative it is to do either. And the law is left to take its course. Now by what motive is the sovereign impelled to shut up his bowels of mercy, and sign the warrant for execution? Is it want of pity? No; the fatal pen is taken with reluctance; it trembles in his hand; and tears of compassion for this guilty wretch drop upon the page. It is not so much abhorrence of the guilty, as love of the innocent, and regard for their lives, peace, purity, and honour, that dooms the man to death. If he were pardoned, and his crime allowed to go unpunished, neither mans life nor womans virtue were safe. Unless this felon dies, the peace of a thousand happy families lies open to foul attack. Love for those who have the highest claim on a sovereigns protection, requires that justice be satisfied, and the guilty die. That the community may live in peace, each man sitting beneath his own vine and fig tree, that the citizen may feel safe in the bosom of his family, that streets may be safe to walk on, that beds may be safe to lie in, that our land may be a country fit to live in, crime must be punished. The magistrate who would reward obedience must punish rebellion; nor can he be a praise and protection to them that do good, who does not make himself a terror to them that do evil.
There are scenes of domestic suffering which present another, no less convincing, and more touching analogy. I refer to those most distressing cases where natural affection yields to the holiest parental duty ; where, though she thereby inificts on her own bosom a wound which balms cannot heal and time never closes, Love seizes the knife, and, lest the canker should extend to the other branches, lops off a once pleasant bough. It has happened that, from love and regard to the interests of his other children, to save them from a brothers contamination, a kind parent has felt constrained to pronounce sentence on his son, and banish him from his house. How sad to think that he may be lost! The dread of that goes like a knife to the heart; yet, bitter truth! painful conclusion !. it is better that one child be lost than a whole family be lost. These lambs claim protection from the wolf; he must be driven forth from the fold. Love herself, while she weeps, demands this sacrifice; and, just because it is most lacerating, most excruciating, to a parents heart, it is in such a case the highest and holiest exercise of parental love to bar the door against a child. There have been parents so weak and foolish as to peril the morals, the fortunes, the souls of all their other children, rather than punish one; and in consequence of this I have seen sin, like a plague, infect every member of the family, and vice ferment and spread till it had leavened the whole lump.
Divine Love, however, is no blind Divinity: and God being as wise as he is tender, sinners may rest assured, that out of mere pity to them, he will neither sacrifice the interest, nor peril the happiness of his people. Bleeding, dying, redeeming Love shall bolt the gates of heaven with her own hand, and from its happy, holy precincts, exclude all that could hurt or defile. Stern words these! and when Love puts on her armour to fight, what hope for the man who has compelled her to be his enemy? Having armed Love against you, where are you to fly? Imagine the scene of the last judgment. He who died on the cross occupies the throne. Love incarnate presides at that august tribunal. I see the print of the nail on the very hand which waves away the lost into perdition. The voice which so often and so tenderly invited the impenitent, now condemns and commands them to depart. Calmly, serenely anticipating that day, Faith says, It is God that justifieth. Who is he that condemneth? But if Jesus Christ condemn, who shall justify? If He spare not, who shall save? If He is against us, who can be for us? From the wrath of the Lamb which impenitence has changed into the wrath of a Lion, despair turns away a face covered with the blackness of darkness, to wring her hands and cry, The great day of his wrath is come, and who shall be able to stand. If the Lamb of God be our adversary, alas! our case is desperate. Oh! take warning in Time, that you perish not for Eternity. Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and . ye perish from the way, when his wrath is kindled but a little. Blessed are all they that put their trust in him.
III. Unless sin is to be awfully punished, the language of Scripture appears extravagant.
To one of tender feelings, next to the suffering of pain is the sight of it. Nor, but for your good, would I ask you to cast even a glance on those appalling scenes which the Bible describes. Still if men, for the mere gratification of taste, and love of the fine arts, crowd to some picture of the damned, some scene of the last Judgment painted by a masters hand, where hideous demons torment shrieking victims, and drag the seven deadly Sins down into the gulf of fire, shall that be condemned in the pulpit which is applauded in the painting? The preachers object transcends the painters as far as the heavens do the earth; my aim is not to please your fancy, but to profit your souls. Here the highest, most precious interests are at stake. And shall the preacher be judged harsh, and condemned for showing no regard to right feeling and propriety, because he asks you to turn your eyes on this harrowing spectacle, on the worm that never dieth, and this fire that is never quenched? Let me beseech and implore you to read with tears and prayers those passages of Scripture that unveil the miseries of the lost. Why should you blot out of your minds what you cannot blot out of the book of God?
What is so sad, what does so strongly and mournfully illustrate the deceitfulness of this wicked heart, as the entertainment which men extract from the solemnities of judgment? Only think of those, who turn with ill-concealed distaste from the very mention of such subjects in the house of God, crowding a brilliant saloon, to hear this same judgment set to music. A gay assembly they listen, with loud and rapturous applause, to the hired musicians, who give a bold (shall I say profane?) imitation of the trumpet that rends the grave, the thunders that announce the Judge, the song of adoring angels, the shouts of ransomed saints, and the despairing shrieks of the damned! Think of criminals leaving the bar to set their trial and sentence to music! When their life is a matter of hours, and its few remaining sands should be given to prayer and the Holy Bible, think of felons in their condemned cell Covering its walls with a wretched caricature of their judge; the tall gallows, the vast crowd, the victim turning round on his cord, with eyeballs that protrude beneath the white cap, and limbs convulsed in the agony and spasm of death.
The sufferings and misery which await the impenitent and unbelieving, have been painted by God in most appalling colours. They are such, that, for our salvation, his Son descended from the heavens and expired upon a cross. They are such, that when Paul thought of the lost, he wept like a woman. They are such, that, though a dauntless man, who shook his chain in the face of kings, whose spirit no sufferings could subdue, and whose heart no dangers could appall, who stood as unmoved amid a thousand perils as ever sea-rock amid the roaring billows, he could not contemplate the fate of the wicked without the deepest emotion. His tears fell fast and thick upon the page where he wrote, "of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ, whose end is destruction."
What horror did David feel at the sight and fate of sinners? With his face turned up to heaven, you see a blind man approach the edge of an awful precipice: every step brings him nearer, nearer still, to the brink. Now he reaches it; he stands on the grassy edge. Oh for an arm to reach him, a voice to warn him, a blow to send him staggering back upon the ground. He has lifted his foot; it is projected beyond the brink; another moment, a breath of wind, the least change of balance, and he is whirling twenty fathoms down. You stop your ears; shut your eyes; turn away your head: horror takes hold of you. Such were Davids feelings when he contemplated the fate of the wicked: he says, Horror hath taken hold upon me, because of the wicked that forsake thy law; rivers of waters run down mine eyes, because they keep not thy law, 0 God.
The wrath of God is the key to the Psalmists sorrow, to an Apostles tears, to the bloody mysteries of the cross. That was the necessity which drew the Saviour down. Had that wrath been either tolerable or terminable, the sword of Justice had never been dyed in the blood, nor sheathed in the body of her noblest victim; and if there is, as I believe, a need be for the lightest cross that lies on a good mans lot, oh how great the necessity for that upon which the Saviour died! God certainly is not willing that you should perish; and by these terrors he would persuade you to accept salvation. Meditate on these words: pray over them - Woe unto him that striveth with his Maker! The wicked shall be turned into hell, and all the nations that forget God.
Rather than that you should perish, even thus, though I should pain, I would persuade you. Brethren, there are terrors enough in the Bible to make a mans hair stand on end. Aye, were God but for one moment to let us hear the wail and shrieking of the lost, that sound, more terrible than Egypts cry, would startle the deepest sleepçr, rouse the student at his books, arrest the foot of dancer in the ball-room, and stop maddened armies in the very fury of the fight. Striking terror into the boldest hearts, it would bend the most stubborn knee, and extort from all this one loud cry, Lord save us, we perish!
Still it is not terror which is the power, the mighty power of God. The Gospel, like most medicines for the body, is of a compound nature; but whatever else enters into its composition, its curative property is love. No man yet was ever driven, to heaven. He must be drawn to it. I wish to draw you. The Gospel, no doubt, has in it elements of terror. But it is like our atmosphere; occasionally riven by the thunder, and illumined by the fatal flash; at times the path of the stealthy pestilence; charged with elements of destruction, and impregnated with the seeds of disease. Yet how much more is it a great magazine of health, filled with melodious sounds, fragrant with the sweetest odours, hung with golden drapery, the pathway of sunbeams, the womb of showers, the feeder of fertilising streams, the parent of harvests, and the fountain of all Earths life! And, just as in that atmosphere, which God has wrapped around our globe, there is much more health than sickness, much more food than famine, much more life than death, so in the Bible there is much more love than terror. The terror is not only subordinate to love, but subservient to it. God, indeed, tells us of hell, but it is to persuade us to fly to heaven; and, as a skilful painter fills the background of his picture with his darker colours, God introduces the smoke of torment, and the black thunder clouds of Sinai, to give brighter prominence to the cross, to Jesus, and his love to the chief of sinners. His voice of terror is like the scream of the mother-bird when the hawk is in the sky. She alarms her brood that they may run, and hide beneath her feathers; and as I believe that God had left that mother dumb unless he had given her wings to cover them, I am sure that He, who is very "pitiful," and has no pleasure in the meanest creatures pain, had never turned our eyes on the horrible gulf unless for the voice that cries, Deliver him from going down to the pit, for I have found a ransom. We had never heard of sin had there been no Saviour. We had never heard of hell had there been no heaven. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof; and never had Bible light been flashed on the eyes of the sleeping felon to wake him from his happy, though delusive dream, but that he might see the smiling form of Mercy, and hear her, as she says, with finger pointing the way, Behold, I have set before thee an open door.
To the Next Chapter
Home | Links | Sermons | Literature | Biography | Photos